Many people who practice meditation on a regular basis report a strong feeling of well-being. Now a new Italian study shows that these positive feelings can be linked to specific changes in the brain.
For the study, researchers at IMT School for Advanced Studies in Lucca, Italy examined the effects of the technique known as Transcendental Meditation (TM), which consists in the silent repetition of a meaningless sound, a “mantra.”
The researchers enrolled 34 healthy young volunteers and divided them in two groups. The first group practiced Transcendental Meditation 40 minutes per day in two sessions of 20 minutes each, one in the morning and the other in the evening; the second group did not change its daily routine.
At the beginning of the study, the researchers used psychometric questionnaires to measure the anxiety and stress levels of all the participants, as well as their ability to manage stressful situations.
Each participant was also subjected to a functional magnetic resonance imaging test (fMRI), in order to measure brain activity at rest and changes in the functional connectivity among different cerebral areas. After three months, at the end of the study, the same tests were repeated.
The overall findings show that levels of anxiety and stress perceived by the subjects who followed the meditation program were significantly reduced in comparison with those of the volunteers who did not practice TM.
“Magnetic resonance imaging also shows that the reduction of anxiety levels is associated with specific changes in the connectivity between different cerebral areas, such as precuneus, left parietal lobe and insula, which all have an important role in the modulation of emotions and inner states,” said Giulia Avvenuti, a PhD fellow at IMT School and first author of the study. “In the control group, instead, none of these changes was observed.”
Pietro Pietrini, IMT School’s Director and coordinator of the study said, “The fact that Transcendental Meditation has measurable effects on the ‘dialogue’ between brain structures involved in the modulation of affective states opens new perspectives for the understanding of brain-mind relationships.”
“It also extends the results of recent research suggesting that drugs therapies and psychotherapy leverage on the same biological mechanism,”
Transcendental Meditation has recently gained more attention worldwide as an effective relaxation practice. The David Lynch Foundation co-financed the study along with the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca.
Founded in 2005 by the movie director David Lynch, who is himself a longtime practitioner and supporter of the social value of TM, the David Lynch Foundation promotes TM practice as an approach to reduce stress in schools (as for the ‘Quiet Time-Meditate Lucca’ project at the Pertini High School) and workplaces, and to build resilience in victims of trauma.
“I am very happy with the results of this study that used the latest technology to show the beautiful benefits for the human beings of TM. Now I’m working to form my foundation also in Italy, with teachers who teach transcendental meditation in schools, work places and other groups, reaching as many people as possible” said Lynch.
This new study, along with previous research, shows that even a few months of Transcendental Meditation practice can have positive effects on psychological well-being and that these effects are correlated with measurable changes in the brain.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Brain and Cognition.